AutoCAD Civil 3D 2013: The Real Deal

June 11th, 2012

Can we count the improvements in the next release of Autodesk’s premier infrastructure design software for civil engineering and survey professionals, also known as AutoCAD® Civil 3D 2013? There are lots of them. We users aren’t interested in the number count.  We want the work done quicker and with less hassle in a piece (or suite) of robust software that includes the capabilities to tackle more real world problems. AutoCAD Civil 3D 2013 is the real deal.

Frankly, I was a bit surprised Autodesk decided to go with the “2013” moniker for the release. If Autodesk is not going to be superstitious, we shouldn’t be either.  Autodesk continues to follow the 3-year dwg platform upgrade cycle. So yes, the AutoCAD 2013 release platform includes a new .dwg (drawing database) format change. The new dwg and display engine produces some significant performance boosts for us all inside AutoCAD Civil 3D 2013.

For Civil 3D users the dwg format change should hardly matter at all. We already live in the yearly release cycle world of the Civil 3D Features. AutoCAD Civil 3D 2013 even has some new features of its own. Say “hello” to Pressure Pipe Networks and their kin.

Performance

Your experience of AutoCAD Civil 3D 2013’s performance will vary based on whether or not you run in 64-bit and Windows 7. There will be a 32-bit version but I recommend you walk away from 32-bit. Pay attention to the published requirements and recommendations.  I employed an older machine with generic video that met the bare minimum 64-bit hardware requirements to test and review betas of the software.

A Better Download and Install Experience

Many of us will get the new software delivered via download. Autodesk improved on the download performance and the user experience of the “Download Manager.” The 2013 platform download and install experience will be different.  As of this writing, changes were still being ironed out. Read the instructions before punching any buttons to get and install your download. You should expect about 7GB of uncompressed installation files and a compressed download of around 40-50 percent of that. Installs and deployment creation were both faster processes.

Both Storm and Sanitary Analysis (SSA) and Sub Assembly Composer (SAC ) can be optionally installed along with latest Design Review for AutoCAD 2013. The installation and deployment configuration process isn’t significantly different from 2012. Both are cleaner and easier to understand.

The New Performance Experience

The new 64-bit release noticeably outperformed the 2012 release on the same machine with the same data everywhere.  AutoCAD Civil 2013 is, in a word, “Brisker.” After you’re all set up, you will notice the shorter load time. You’ll have to find another time to take that trip to the coffee pot.  Release 2013 makes it harder to find those slots during the day.

Civil 3D projects often have lots of interconnected drawings and Civil 3D Features. That’s what a managed Dynamic Model is all about. You’ll notice that loads of Data Shortcuts and opens of any connected drawings will be faster. They sort of pop up all in a rush on drawing open instead of trickling in like they often do in Releases 2010 through 2012.

Faster to the Features

The core Features of Surfaces, Alignments, Profiles, Corridors, and Pipe Networks load faster. We all know the “Displaying contours” routine for surfaces. In past releases, a lot of us ALWAYS turned off Automatic Rebuilds for Corridors and other Features to shorten our initial drawing load times. The performance improvements for the core Features in 2013 may make this much less an issue on the same hardware.  Are you smiling yet?

Another frequent Civil 3D user complaint has been in and out of data in text formats or other formats like LandXML . The data coming in was often painfully slow and an UNDO afterwards was equally painful. Both issues mostly go away thanks to 2013’s faster native handling of object creation, storage, and display in the new dwg.  Survey Imports into databases are faster too. Civil 3D 2013 includes Infrastructure Modeler (.IMX) import and export.

The AutoCAD 2013 display engine is noticeably faster. Visual Styles and screen rendering of almost all of Civil 3D’s Feature Style representations (Plan, Profile, Section, and so on) are faster. You can think about looking at things from multiple new perspectives without the fear of time lost to regen. We also have more performance tuning capabilities and control inside Options in 2013 too. Are you grinning?

Civil 3D is notoriously “piggy” about screen real estate with its plethora of editing and informational palettes. One of my favorite AutoCAD interface tweaks remains palette rollover transparency. Rollover transparency allows you to have a palette almost visible and become more clearly visible only when you want it that way.  You may undock the command line palette forever with 2013’s tweaks to it.  Be warned, not every Civil 3D command that wants a screen pick does well when crossing over the palettes. You learn to swoop around the barely visible.

Corridor Muscles

Corridors are one of Civil 3D’s design strengths. They benefit significantly from the new display engine that’s under the hood in 2013. Take a test drive and see for yourself. There are more creation and editing interface updates and more raw corridor performance fine tuning at work. The Section Editor interface introduced in 2012 is now smoother.

Assembly construction got a bit more intuitive with automatic lefts and rights being applied to subassemblies on insertion. That frustrating semi-automatic, subassembly “group by number” method gets replaced with more reasonable left and right default group names. Copying in a constructed Assembly now doesn’t include automatic renaming and renumbering of the subassemblies as part of the process either. That cuts down a subassembly renaming time, but won’t save you from all the necessary maintenance work every time. The subassemblies inside the assembly groups are now editable, selectable, and displayable from the Toolspace. Finding the needle in the haystack within an array of assemblies gets easier with this release. 

We get more control over how the Regions in Corridors are locked. By default, upgraded corridor regions are locked to the alignment stations. New corridor regions can now also be locked to alignment geometry instead. Yes. A “little” change can make a difference when you make a major geometry changes to a complex corridor.

New Things to Rail About

The new release introduces a Rail Alignment feature type and a new cant method of (superelevation) calculation for railway design. The rail alignment type and cant method were necessary to deal with the chord length mid-chord offset (MCO) definitions, Degree of Curvature (DoC), and Acceleration requirements that are inherit to the imperial (US) railway geometry design standards.

There are new DoC options presented as you add curves and spirals and curves to rail alignments. The DoC values are editable in both the Alignment Panorama and Segment editor. A new Track Width value is a property of rail type alignments as it and design speed affect the cant calculations.

Cant may be applied to rail alignments in a wizard interface (like the one used for Superelevation). Cant plays by the different railway rules and employs separate rail design criteria files (supplied in editable XML format). Multiple methods of cant calculation are supported including multiple kinds of cant rotation and a variety of standard table lookup methods. A new Cant Critical Point Label style supplies annotative access to the calculated cant data for plan views.

Queries About Survey and Surfaces

No release of Civil 3D would be complete without some new surface creation and editing updates. How about the simple and useful tool that makes the boundary of one surface become the boundary on another? Let’s call it: “Surface Shrinkwrap Boundary.” You can employ one surface as the hide boundary for another so you spend less time and hassle getting to a cleaner version of a surface.

Surfaces in 2013 also have a new optional build property to automatically cut down on those extraneous triangles that form in convex areas on the edges of surveyed surfaces. The new “maximum angle” property employs “A maximum angle between adjacent TIN lines.” The algorithm chews around the edges of a surface like Cookie Monster removing TIN lines until satisfied.

The Volume Dashboard introduced in 2012 is now the default volumes interface in the ribbon. This dashboard includes a powerful bounded volumes capability to help you tune your grading solution to meet the need. That means you can scratch out polygons or employ figures, parcels, and so on to create closed areas to massage and track both partial and total volume solutions all in one place. Reporting is also built right in. The old “Quick Volume” command (it doesn’t require the construction of a volume surface) is still there from the command line.

Surfaces can now be more dynamically connected to a Survey data base data via the new user defined “Survey Queries.” The survey query idea is simple. Create a query against your point and/or figure data and supply the results directly to a surface as a part of its definition. If the survey data is updated or new data now matches the query, the surface reflects the changes. You even get the choice whether or not to make the process dynamic.

A dynamic connection (sans the point features and figures) is important. Civil 3D’s Point Feature display still remains an uncommon, non-intuitive, and frustrating performance weakness in the software. Unfortunately, as of this writing, the 2013 seems to provide little or no improvement when point features are on the drawing table. Ah well. At least it’s now even easier to keep the point features in their own separate drawings.

If you haven’t employed Survey in 2012 with SP 1 or above, don’t neglect or underestimate the usefulness of survey in Civil 3D. Major improvements were made to the interface that can make your day far more productive. Yes, it’s different, but that isn’t a bad thing.

Pipes Under Pressure

Over the last three releases of Civil 3D we’ve seen a major effort put to Pipe Networks and Storm and Sanitary Analysis. That’s paid off in some useful tools.
Pressure pipe networks and their companion features are new for 2013. We now have pressure pipe networks, pressure pipe part lists, pressure pipes, and two different types of “structures”—Fittings and Appurtenances. Appurtenances are all the other stuff such as valves, regulators, etc. that may be part of the system aside from the connecting fittings between the pipes.

If you’ve used Civil 3D Pipes, the basic concepts, creation, and editing processes are about the same. Much of the new interface and the creation and maintenance of parts lists and all the attendant styles should be familiar ground.

However, in Pressure Pipe Networks (PPN) things are a bit different for both discipline reasons and because Autodesk took a somewhat different approach to some of the technical aspects of pressure pipe networks as well. Simply put,  more of what’s going on is driven by your current pressure pipe part list and the back-end data base data catalogs than in the gravity pipes application.

According to Autodesk, they’ll ship three Imperial Pressure Pipe Catalogs (PPC) based on the American Water Work Association (AWWA) standards and one Metric PPC. The AWWA PPCs include three classes of connection systems: Push On, Flanged, and Mechanical. The initial Metric PPC will include only a Push On connection system.  The PPCs are editable datasets. They are not editable from inside the software. The release includes a command to build a complete pressure network parts list from the current PPC.

The Design Interface

The PPN design interface works primarily in plan. You may reference either or both a reference surface and/or alignment. A “cover” property locates the component’s elevation (at the XY pick points) based on the current reference surface.  You may construct pipes alone or pipes and bends together. You may also optionally place fittings and appurtenances and connect them with pipes after the fact.

Pressure Pipes support both straight and “curved” pipes. The specifics of the allowed direction, pipe deflection tolerance, and allowed pipe curvature are driven by the current fitting and pipe values in the part list. Civil 3D generates an on-screen Compass tool when you construct pipes. The compass reflects angular possibilities of the fittings in the parts List. This helps you visualize and “snap to” an acceptable direction. Dynamic glyphs provide aid when you must make a connection or break a pipe.

The design interface initially takes some getting used to because of the “hidden” data-driven constraint system operating behind the scenes. AutoCAD® and Civil 3D transparent alignment commands (e.g., ‘SO) do work, but you can get unexpected results based on the system. The PPN parts have intuitive grips to help you perform typical rearrangements and even construction tasks like generate a new pipe from a part connection.

Pressure Pipe Network Analysis

Once you have your PPN built, there are analysis design checks for coverage and other design infractions created within the system. There is no interference checking. You can create an alignment feature from selected PPN parts and the alignment will stay connected to the changing system if you don’t manually edit it. You can add selected PPN parts to a profile, edit them in profile, and annotate them.

You can produce reasonable annotated plan and profile plans of your PPN with the tools and the associated styles. I constructed filled, double line, and single line representations without undue effort. Annotative label styles are more problematic because of the number of potential values you have to get your head around and the dearth and/or wealth of information in the Catalog. The pressure pipe parts list didn’t appear to currently expose everything that’s in there (or not in there) to the user.

In this initial release don’t expect all the bells and whistles that have evolved in pipes. There are only plan, profile, and model representations for pressure pipe networks. There is no display in sections. The beta Catalogs I had access to were limited in materials, sizes, annotative detail, and types of appurtenances in particular. However, when it’s all said and done, the new pressure pipes feature still beats the heck out of tweaking a pipe network to do the job poorly.

Get Cloud Connected

You can also bet that your new Civil 3D will be better connected to the fast growing array of Autodesk Cloud Services. You’ll get more manageable support options such as the Mosaic Community to help you keep up to speed. 

In the End

You get a better performing AutoCAD Civil 3D that includes more useful and refined civil engineering design tools. Yes, I still have a big wish list (don’t we all?).
My personal favorite new feature of the latest Civil 3D? Style and Label Style stability to almost rock solid.  That means if you have well-built, tested styles in your templates and project drawings, you’ll have an easier time making the jump to the new 2013 release.

AutoCAD Civil 3D 2013 is indeed the real deal.

Tench Tilghman writes the Get the Jump on Civil 3D blog. He is President of MoreCompetency, Inc., an Autodesk Developer Partner, specializing in innovative Civil 3D adoption products and consulting services.  He is a regular speaker at Autodesk University and AEC industry events on the topics of technology adoption, innovation, and (his personal favorite) people skills.

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